Taking Randi Weingarten’s Words with a Grain of Salt… and Some Maalox
The American Federation of Teachers President’s half truths and hypocrisy can’t hide an obvious agenda.
In a slam against those of us who believe that part of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote an article for the Huffington Post last week which begins, “Since some people think that everything in education can be reduced to a number, let’s follow their lead.” She then fires off seven bullet points – all bolds in the original – which are supposed to convince the reader that some awful things are happening in the world of public education.
Consider me very unconvinced by her numbers.
She starts off with 76: The percentage of teachers who report that their school’s budget decreased in the last year (after the recession officially ended).
Whatever teachers may or may not know about their school’s budget, her point is clearly refuted by her rival union, the National Education Association. According to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci who examined the NEA’s Rankings & Estimates,
If we compare this year’s numbers to three years ago, we see an enrollment increase of 0.5 percent, a teacher reduction of 0.4 percent, and an increase in per-pupil spending of 6 percent (1.5% in constant dollars).
Going back further, he reports:
Let’s look at the last 10 years for convenience, and the last three to examine the effects of national recession. In 2001-02, there were 2,991,724 K-12 classroom teachers and 47,360,963 K-12 students. K-12 per-pupil spending was $7,676.
Ten years later, there were almost 7 percent more teachers and 4 percent more students. Per-pupil spending was $10,976 – a 43% increase (12.6% in constant dollars). (Bold added.)
Weingarten: 63: The percentage of teachers who say that their class sizes increased in the last year.
So what? First, she mentions nothing about how much of an increase. And it has been documented over and over again, most recently this past January, that class size has nothing to do with student achievement.
Weingarten: 16.4 million: The number of children in America living in poverty.
Red herring. Union drum-beating to the contrary, poor kids can learn also. Also important – what definition of poverty is being used? Poverty is one of those words that is defined by the person speaking or writing to make a point. Writer Leon Felkins points out,
The fact that “poverty” is a vague term and cannot be defined precisely, does not, of course, stop the government from using the word as if it were precise and the press going along with the scam, as is their way. In fact the government is not beyond declaring that poverty has increased or that it has decreased when the primary factor in the increase or decrease may be that the government has simply changed its definition of poverty.
Robert Rector has made a detailed and very well documented study of this very question in his online paper, “How ‘Poor’ are America’s Poor?” and the update, “THE MYTH OF WIDESPREAD AMERICAN POVERTY“. Some interesting comparison’s surface (as of 1990, the date of the original article):
• In the 1920s, over half of the families would have been officially “poor” by today’s standard (adjusted for inflation).
• The average “poor” American lives in a bigger house or apartment, eats far more meat, owns more appliances, has more amenities such as indoor toilets, than the average European (note that “average” includes all, not just the poor).
• Today’s poor are more likely to own common appliances such as televisions and refrigerators than the average family in the 1950s.
• Government reports show that the poor actually spend 2 to 3 times as much as their official income. Amazing! (Bold added.)
• As a group, the “poor” are far from being chronically hungry and malnourished. In fact, poor persons are more likely to be overweight than are middle-class persons. Nearly half of poor adult women are overweight. Most poor children today are in fact super-nourished, growing up to be, on average, one inch taller and ten pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.
Weingarten: 50: The approximate percent of teachers who leave the profession within the first five years.
This is a stretch, wrapped in innuendo and topped off with a political flourish. The assumption here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But a closer look at reality tells a different story. The number leaving the classroom is actually much closer to 40 percent and they leave for a wide variety of reasons including taking an administrative position, personal reasons, family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.
And of course, Weingarten makes no mention of the fact that for the teachers do who leave their jobs for better paying ones in the first five years, the union is responsible for their relatively low salaries. New teachers, no matter how talented they may be, are typically stuck in the lowest rungs of step-and-column pay hell for years; they only advance by taking meaningless salary point classes and accumulating years on the job. Very rarely is incentive pay available for being an above average teacher. Also, archaic seniority rules punish good new teachers — no matter how effective they are in the classroom, they will be the first to go when money gets tight. Any attempt to deviate from this civil service model of payment and staffing is met with great resistance from the teachers unions.
The take-away here is that when a union leader speaks, you must assume that there is a very obvious agenda being laid out. Weingarten spins the numbers to suit that agenda, which is first and foremost about getting the taxpayers to fork over more and more bucks for education. I guess a 150 percent increase in spending nationally since 1970 (and getting nothing for it) isn’t enough for Weingarten.
It’s especially laughable because like so many other union phonies, Weingarten talks one way and lives another. Despite her ongoing “tax the rich” class warfare campaign, she is a card-carrying member of the dreaded “one percent” class. In 2010, her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, she received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And she will tell you that it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.
Coincidence? Try hypocrisy.
About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.